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Panel Discusses Homelessness

Experts at IOP Call for Government, Community Action

By Jennifer W. Grove

State and federal governments need to provide adequate low-cost housing and job counselling to combat a growing homelessness problem, a panel of experts told a crowd of about 70 at an Institute of Politics (IOP) forum last night.

"This session tonight is about solutions," IOP director Charles T. Royer told the audience. "You know and I know that there are no easy solutions."

The forum, one of the opening events of Homelessness Awareness Week at the Kennedy School of Government focused on steps that governments and local communities could take to address the problem.

Panel members said that the shortage of government-funded apartments in the state is a major barriers to solving the homelessness problem.

A two-bedroom apartment in Boston now costs $800 a month, making the state one of the highest rent areas in the country, said Sue Marsh, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless.

Marsh said she thinks the government should make cheaper housing options available to the homeless.

Royer pointed to a program in Seattle which provided homeless people with clothing, housing and job counselling as an example Boston legislators should follow.

"Whenever I talk about these things that the federal government could do, people say, `that costs money.' It does," Royer said. But he said the cost of housing the homeless in jails or shelters is even greater.

However, citizen participation at shelters and in petitioning legislators about the homelessness problem can help to alleviate the situation, said Leslie Samuelrich, director of the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness.

"The problems [of homelessness] are getting worse both here in Boston and Massachusetts and across the nation," Samuelrich said. But she said that increasing education about the problem is helping.

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